Big Apple Circus holds special show for children with sensory disabilities

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

STONE MOUNTAIN -- Mikey Watkins and his mother, Leslie Watkins, both watched in awe, their mouths agape, as daredevil clown Bello Nock performed jaw-dropping stunts on a giant, spinning, steel "Wheel of Wonder."

The circus apparatus took Bello high above the Watkins family's heads Thursday during a Big Apple Circus show held specially for children with sensory disabilities.

"He loved it," Leslie Watkins said of Mikey, who has cerebral palsy.

His favorite parts of the circus show?

"The (wheels), the fact that they go round and around," Mikey's mother said, "and the lights. He loves the lights."

Circus of the Senses is a free performance that is offered during the Big Apple Circus' annual engagement at Stone Mountain Park. To help children with sensory disabilities experience the circus, sign language interpreters throughout the audience communicate with those with hearing impairments. Wireless headsets are provided for those with visual impairments. The headsets allow listeners to tune in to announcers who give a play-by-play of what's happening in the circus ring, from describing the colors of costumes to explaining the various circus acts.

"Without that audio description, she probably wouldn't have gotten much, if anything, from this kind of experience," Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway, president of Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children, said of her daughter, Kendra. "The audio description was key for her."

After the show, some of the children, including 7-year-old Kendra, were invited to enter the ring for a "touch session" in which they were able to pet some of the animal performers, touch the metal cans that contortionists Long Jun and Long Bing used in their act and even climb into one of the two steel rings of the Wheel of Wonder.

"I moved a little," Kendra said after standing up and balancing in the ring with the help of Big Apple Circus staff. "It was kind of scary. And I was like, 'It's really cool' in my head."

Really cool, indeed.

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